On its way to one of the best seasons in program history, St. John the Baptist used a powerful running attack and a strong defense to reach the CHSFL AA championship game.
It was a banner year for a program looking to get back to its first championship game (other than "A'') since 1993. The nine wins were the second most in program history and the most since it also won nine in 1980. The Cougars fell just short of the 10 games they won in 1981.
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Although St. John the Baptist lost in the championship game Saturday night, 35-14, to Xavier, fourth-year coach Keith Schweers has a strong returning group.
"It hurts but we're going to learn from this," Schweers said after the game. "We're a young team. We're losing a couple of great players but you can see with some of the guys that were on the field toward the end of the game that are coming back next year, the future is bright."
The Cougars' rushing attack garnered headlines during the season and its feature performer was burner Christian Turri, who won't be back next season. But St. John will be in good hands with returning seniors Jonathan Wiswall, Kevin De Maille Jr. and Ryan McCann taking the lead.
"We are a team," Wiswall said after the Cougars beat Kellenberg in the playoff semifinals. "During practice, we all work and one player doesn't do everything. It's because we all always work together. All 11 players do their job."
After Turri was knocked out of the Kellenberg game early in the first quarter, Schweers turned to his stable of juniors and let them run wild: Wiswall carried nine times for 113 yards, McCann had 82 yards on 11 carries and De Maille carried 13 times for 62 yards.
Early in the season, the Cougars handed Xavier one of its two losses, 14-0. That game caused the rest of the CHSFL to take notice and forced a successful Xavier team to make lineup changes that would eventually carry it to the championship.
Xavier coach Chris Stevens praised St. John the Baptist's defense after the championship, noting that he did not expect to put up 35 points. "They're a very physical defensive football team," he said.
The defense will lose a few key players, as well, including Jackson Moses, who led the team with 13 sacks, and lineman Charles Lloyd.
But Wiswall will lead a linebacking crew that includes heavy hitters such as Lawson Prendergast and Michael Medwig. And Bryan Sinclair lines up all over the field on both sides of the ball and will be a contributor.
"Things could have went the other way [in the championship game]," Schweers said. "But we'll come back to the drawing board and hopefully get back here next year and take it back."